In a rematch of the championship game from 32 years ago, the Patriots held off Devils Lake 69-61 to go back-to-back.
BISMARCK — The last time Devils Lake and Bismarck Century met in the Class A girls basketball state championship, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover brought to the world for the first time Detectives Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. This season’s iteration of the Patriots have their own version of ‘Lethal Weapon’ in two-time North Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year Lauren Ware and Miss Basketball finalist Lilly Keplin.
And the two became bird killers.
Ware and Keplin combined to score 46 points to power the Patriots over the Firebirds 69-61 Saturday, March 9, from the Bismarck Event Center to complete an unbeaten season and claim back-to-back Class A championships.
The eight point win was the second lowest margin of victory for the Patriots this season. They defeated Mandan by seven on Valentine’s Day.
“I’m so proud of them. They work that they’ve put in they’re so deserving,” said Patriots head coach Ron Metz.
Ware carried the Patriots in the first half, scoring 17 points on 7 of 12 shooting. All of Ware’s four blocked shots came during the game’s first 18 minutes but despite the Firebirds (25-2) trailing by as many as nine in the first half, Century led by only three at halftime.
Ware, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds and added two assists.
“We were going to play behind Ware and when she got the ball, we were going to double down,” North Dakota High School Coaches Association Class A Coach of the Year Justin Klein of Devils Lake said about his gameplay against the 6-foot-5 junior. “It didn’t work very well in the first half but I thought we did a little bit better job in the second half.”
Keplin, the University of North Dakota commit, scored 20 points on only 6 of 15 shooting, 2-for-7 from 3 but her two 3-pointers in the second half were timely. After Taylor Windjue tied the game at 35 early in the second half, Keplin’s first made 3 helped the Patriots (27-0) regain the lead. Keplin’s second 3 with 4:48 left gave Century a four point advantage.
Century’s Chloe Markovic finished the game with nine points, but her final three, which followed Keplin’s second 3 of the half, became the dagger. It put the Patriots up seven with 4:22 remaining.
“Those two (Ware and Keplin) has led us all year but our role players and our bench has been so huge for us,” Metz said.
The Firebirds’ full court press was disruptive to a point, forcing 22 Century turnovers, seven between Ware and Keplin, but the Patriots offset that with a half court defense that discombobulated Devils Lake enough that it held the Firebirds 15 points below their season average. After leading early in the game at 13-12 behind two free throws by Ramsey Brown, the Firebirds led once more at 54-53 after a Jess Mertens basket with 8:38 left on the clock.
There were five lead changes and four ties throughout the game.
“We were right where we wanted to be but offensively it was not what I was looking for in the half court set.
“Credit Century with their defense. They were right in our face. They denied entry passes and things like that which made it tough for us,” Klein said.
Mertens scored 16 points, had two assists and three steals, Brown, who was defended by Ware most of the contest, shot 4-for-15 and finished with 12 points and five rebounds and Windjue and Mattea Vetsch, playing their final games as Firebirds, each finished with 11 points apiece.
Devils Lake was seeking its first championship since that 1987 game, when they defeated Century, and its fourth title overall.
“It was a great season. It was a fun ride. Great group of seniors, great leaders on and off the court. And I told the underclassmen this is where we want to be. We need to get a little bit better. What do we need to do in the offseason to get here next year,” Klein began.
“How hard the seniors worked to get where we are is what has to continue in our program.”
Three Firebirds, Windjue, Vetsch and Brown, were selected by the media to the Class A State Tournament team.
Chris Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @ChrisHarris_DLJ
Century vs Devils Lake box score
Century 35 34 — 69
Devils Lake 32 29 — 61
Ware 26, Keplin 20, Markovic 9, Fitterer 9, Clarke 5, Fletcher 0, Fridley 0, Kinnebrew 0. Totals 25 15-23 69.
DEVILS LAKE (25-2)
Mertens 16, Brown 12, Windjue 11, Vetsch 11, Johnson 4, Martinson 4, Ziegler 2, Heilman 1, Olson 0. Totals 24 9-16 61.